Val d'Isère Tragedy - Allied POWs died at the Colle Galisia in 1944

Discussion in 'Prisoners of War' started by Varasc, May 2, 2014.

  1. Varasc

    Varasc Senior Member

    Good evening,

    I am asking your kind assistance on behalf of Professor Claretta Coda, who wrote me yesterday concerning Allied POWs in North Western Italy. To be more precise, she is looking for info and ID related to the soldiers died while trying to escape from Italy to France in the so-called Val d’Isère tragedy.
    It is quite a complex story, I will try to explain it at best, but please feel free to ask me more when needed. I will be also pleased to act as translator and contact for Professor Coda, who is reading anyway this thread.

    Mrs. Coda, teaching at the “Aldo Moro” High School in Rivarolo Canavese (Turin, Piedmont, Italy) is currently involved with her students in a historical search on Camp PG 112 of Castellamonte Canavese (Turin). That prisoner camp was held in the nearby village of Spineto (near Rivarolo), between April and September, 1943; I could not find it directly in this detailed list,

    although there are various Canavese-related satellite camps.
    The teacher and her students are trying to identify about 50 Allied inmates of this camp, supposedly all British POWs, and to know their fate after the Armistice. She is reading my book, Braccati. Prigionieri di Guerra Alleati in Piemonte e Valle d’Aosta, presented here:

    She therefore contacted me for further info. Moreover, the book cited that tragedy at page 151, since three of “my” POWs followed the same, dangerous route across the mountains in a luckier roped party.

    The Val d'Isère Tragedy

    According to Mrs. Coda, about 20 POWs formerly locked in Camp PG 112 died in the already mentioned mountain accident, while trying to climb the Colle Galisia between November 9 and 10, 1944. She wrote me as follows: they were trying to reach France with 15 Italian partisans, namely aimed to find new weapons (although I know that Italian partisans were interned in France and Switzerland, as well); concerning the Allied POWs, she knows they had been captured in Libya and then held in Camp PG 66 and near Macerata, at Sforzacosta or Urbisaglia. She spent months working on that project, therefore I am able to tell you that some of the POWs worked to dig an irrigation canal from the Orco river, while the others were forced to work for the CAI, Conceria Alta Italia, a local tannery.
    After the Armistice they escaped and were helped, as almost everywhere in North-Western Italy, by the populations. Various inmates joined the partisan bands.

    Professor Coda already did a search on her own. She contacted for instance the USME in Rome (the historical bureau of the Italian Defense Minister) as well as the CWGC in Rome, since various of these POWs are buried in the Commonwealth Cemetery of Trenno, under the words “Unknown Unto God”. She also contacted the British Embassy in Rome. Unfortunately, she came to almost nothing - she wrote that she experienced the same difficulties I referred to in my book, therefore I think she clashed with British law on privacy. I would suggest here to contact the Red Cross but, not being a next of kin, it would be too expensive for a school research (if I correctly remember, about 90 Euro for each dossier, if available).

    The mountain tragedy involved 38-40 men, between POWs (23-25) and partisans of which survived only a British and two Italians.
    Professor Coda and her students are currently looking on info related to the PG112 inmates, their stories and experiences during the war as well as after the escape, with a particular focus on the Colle Galisia tragedy. They can’t ask more, not being next of kins and thus requiring the formal acceptance of their families.

    Just a few notes.

    In February 2013 a fellow researcher, the kind Brian Sims, provided me an extract of file WO 361/763. I just wrote him, asking his permission to publish it here - it contains a report on this same tragedy, therefore would provide a strong asset to this discussion and, perhaps, enable us to find the families of the victims.

    Meanwhile, thank you for your kindest attention and help.
    Best regards,

    TriciaF, dbf and Rich Payne like this.
  2. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Hi Marco

    You say that 1 British POW and 2 Italians survived the tragedy. Do you or Prof Coda have a name for the British survivor? and or the 2 Italian survivors?

    If there is a name or some details of the British survivor then it may be possible to trace (assuming he is still alive) him or if not then perhaps he filled in a liberation questionnaire (again assuming he made it back to the UK.

    Regarding the WO 361/763 then there are members on here who would be able to photograph this file ( or Drew5233 for example), unless Brian sends you a copy of it.

  3. Varasc

    Varasc Senior Member

    Dear TD,

    Thank you indeed for this very kind and prompt reply. I sent an e-mail to Brian, asking his Ok to publish the prisoners' list; concerning the survivors, I still don't know their names but will immediately ask to Mrs. Coda. I know she is quite well informed on the Italian side of the story - witnesses, local people and even of the lads who luckily escaped the disaster. I am going to write her about.

    Good evening,


    Edit at 20.37:

    "Live" edit. Mrs. Coda wrote me while I was replying here:

    The names of the survivors are as follows:

    Alfred J. Southon, formerly a Northmberland Fusilier, survived to 9 days and nights in a snow hole. He became a war amputee, losing the lower part of his left leg, as well as part of his right leg and three fingers of his right hand. He dies in 1993 while on holiday in Malta, aged 84.
    Giuseppe Mina, who died in 1946 at the age of 36 years, after spending his last years in French and Italian hospitals, vanely fighting against gangrene.
    Carlo Difforville, who disappeared in the Seventies and was then buried in Borgiallo, a Valle Sacra village behind Castellamonte, the village where most part of the PG 112 inmates found help and assistance.

    Walter Rattue was there with Southon, but died before they were found and rescued; they were left back from their fellow escapers and were subsequently killed by avalanches.

    Thank you indeed - Mrs. Coda is reading us here, too.

  4. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Hi Both

    It appears our man appeared on a BBC TV Programme back in 1959 called "This is your Life" -

    Alfred SOUTHON
    30 March 1959
    Northumberland Fusilier who escaped captivity and fought with Italian partisans

    I will try and see if we can find a copy of the programme

    edited to add:
    I have found that the BBC no longer have a manned archive section, however I have sent them an email and asked them to contact me. I have given them the link to this thread so they can read why we are looking for this info.
    Will let you know what happens
  5. Varasc

    Varasc Senior Member

    Hi all again,

    I received the permission by Brian Sims to spread these copies of the WO 361/763 file:

    Attached Files:

  6. ADM199

    ADM199 Well-Known Member

    Hello Marco
    feel free to pass on what you have to Prof Coda. Should she require a full copy of the File you can put her in contact, or I could send it via yourself.

    The file is something copied almost 2yrs ago as I had an earlier interest.
    There were three S/Africans with the name Lee who were lost.

    Pte Bailey of the Sherwood Foresters came from Rainworth, Notts. Just about 600yds down the road.
    The village is divided between two Local Councils. To the East Newark and Sherwood and to the West where Pte Bailey came from was, and still is Mansfield District Council.

    Copies were sent to various Regiments and to the local branch of TRBL in 2011.
    dbf likes this.
  7. Varasc

    Varasc Senior Member

    Here the second part of the file.

    Attached Files:

  8. Varasc

    Varasc Senior Member

    Thank you indeed, ADM. Would it be possible to put Mrs. Coda in contact with Bailey's family, maybe?
    ADM199 likes this.
  9. ADM199

    ADM199 Well-Known Member

    I feel the Family moved on many years ago as there were no results when I last tried to contact them.

    Will knock on the door next time I drive by though. Maybe someone knows something.
  10. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

  11. NickFenton

    NickFenton Well-Known Member


    If l can assist with anything from Kew, please let me know.


  12. Varasc

    Varasc Senior Member

    Good afternoon,

    Just back from a quick mountain trip before the storm, and it's amazing to find so many info and new chances.

    Dear ADM, thank you, would be fantastic to find a family so close to the start of this search!

    Tricky Dicky, thank you, Mrs. Coda read your kind post and wrote me that not only she owns that book, but - surprisingly - that her students in a language lab are currently translating it. When I read your post I mistakenly thought to "Australian Partisan. A true story of love and conflict", an almost rare book by Ian Sproule, cited in my book - but it does not matter with this search.

    Nick, thank you, your help at Kew will be surely appreciated. I should come back in London this winter, but of course we will ask you well before, if needed by Mrs. Coda.

    Moreover, I am still receiving a lot of info taken from the WO 361/763 file by the kindest Brian Sims. I am waiting to download them. I think it will be therefore better to create a list, perhaps in .xls, to be published here - with names and addresses of all the victims or survivors we know. So whoever will be able to contribute, for instance locating a family, or family members will be able to find this thread with Google.
  13. Varasc

    Varasc Senior Member

    Dear all,

    I have just received the list, duly filled by Mrs. Coda on the basis of the documents provided by Brian Sims (she still has just a part of the whole file). You will find this file hereby attached, she has been very quick since I sent her just yesterday the few pages I already had (the ones, taken from the WO 361/763, I had in my archive).

    Furthermore, she wrote me as follows:

    Concerning Milroy's "Alpine Partisan" book, there are various differences. For instance, Bailey's initials are changed in "E. L", while Southon called him "Frank", as well as of Sargeant, called "Bill Sargent" by Southon.
    Moreover, Southon described a group composed by 26 British former POWs, while the WO 361/763 list mentions 28 names.
    Harry Richardson is correctly cited in the group: Mrs. Coda told me that in the Eighties his son Eric and in 1989 his wife came in Canavese, in Piedmont, to look for him. This is well remembered.

    Professor Coda wishes to thank you all very much for your attention and assistance, also providing her e-mail address,


    Thank you once again and have a good night,


    Attached Files:

    ecalpald likes this.
  14. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    I have received an unfortunate response from the BBC following a request for a copy of Alfred Southon's appearance on 'This is your Life' in 1959

    Thanks for clarifying things.

    I have read your thread and understand why you want a copy of the programme 'This Is Your Life' which aired in 1959 and featured Alfred Southon.

    Copies of BBC programmes and series can only be obtained if they have been made available commercially. For a number of reasons related to rights and resources, the BBC is unable to loan out programme material that has not been released commercially to members of the public I'm afraid.

    Having checked online for you this material is not commercially available in any format nor can we give you a copy from our archive as you are already aware.

    It is a rare occasion when we can't assist any further and I'm sorry to say this is one of those times.
  15. Varasc

    Varasc Senior Member

    Thank you anyway for this appreciated effort, Tricky Dicky, I understand.

    Hereunder attached, an interesting Commonwealth War Graves Commission list kindly provided by Professor Coda.


    Attached Files:

  16. Richard Lewis

    Richard Lewis Member

    I know Val d'Isère well, having worked and skied there since 1981. However this is the first time I have ever heard of this event. Nothing, as far as I can remember, about it in the town's small museum. Thanks Marco for posting the information, very interesting.

    I've found a few links relating to the area today, one in English, three in French. There you can see pictures of the memorial.

    Val d'Isère at War by Emma Forrester
    Le refuge du Prariond (1)
    Le refuge du Prariond (2)


  17. Varasc

    Varasc Senior Member

    Thank you indeed, Richard, for your contribution. I think and hope that in the next years, also thanks to Professor Coda and her team's work, more data will be spread and above all "fixed" (saved from the oblivion), concerning this tragedy. I am proud of being just a witness of the start of this new search, and I owe full credit to Claretta Coda and her students for their outstanding commitment.

    We would need more teachers, and surely more pupils, like them. :)
  18. bear.cub

    bear.cub Member

    Hi Marco,
    This is an incredible story.
  19. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    I have continued Claretta Coda's research and was invited to the 75th anniversary commemoration but didn't go as there was a very bad forecast and I hate snow. The memorial plaque, which had been swept downhill in an avalanche some years ago has been found and is now postioned in the village of Ceresole Reale.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2019
    bear.cub, Tullybrone and JimHerriot like this.
  20. bear.cub

    bear.cub Member

    Hello All,
    Would you mind if I contacted Professor Coda?
    I am interested in the story and replicating/walking the route.

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